What’s in the post?
Landlords’ administrative errors can lead to time-consuming court cases, says Jane Plant, associate at Weightmans
A recent case in the Court of Appeal highlights the risks of sending out standard letters to tenants without extra checks.
In the case of Saxon Weald Homes v Dayne Richard Chadwick, Saxon granted Mr Chadwick an assured shorthold tenancy for a probationary period of 12 months. The tenancy agreement provided that, if Saxon did not take steps to end the tenancy, it would automatically convert to a full assured tenancy on the 12-month anniversary.
It was alleged that Mr Chadwick engaged in anti-social behaviour. Accordingly a notice requiring possession was served prior to the tenant’s probationary period ending.
However, upon the anniversary of the commencement of the tenancy, the landlord wrote to Mr Chadwick confirming that the tenancy had been conducted properly and that the tenant was now an assured tenant. Clearly, a contradiction to the notice served previously.
The central issue was whether a letter from a landlord confirming that the probationary assured shorthold tenancy had been conducted properly and that the tenant was entitled to a full assured tenancy, was sufficient to meet the notice requirements set out in schedule 2A, paragraph 2 of the Housing Act 1988.
The landlord issued accelerated possession proceedings on the grounds that the tenant was still an assured shorthold tenant. The claim was resisted on the basis that the letter constituted notice under schedule 2A to the Housing Act 1988 and therefore the accelerated possession procedure route could not be used.
The County Court judge held in favour of the tenant, that the anniversary letter was sufficient notice to convert the tenancy. The landlord appealed the decision on the basis that the context in which the letter had been sent was not considered and that any reasonable recipient of the letter would have known that it was sent in error.
The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. It held that the anniversary letter was unambiguous and that it was not for a tenant to look into the background and rationale for serving an otherwise clear letter.
The implications of this case are that standard letters should not be sent without checking the tenancy file first. Correspondence, even sent in error, that is relied upon can be taken as a true reflection of a landlord’s intentions. This could equally be extended to other situations such as during a complaint procedure or during a tenancy review panel conveying an incorrect decision.